Celestron Smart Modules – StarSense Autoalign, SkyPortal WiFi, and SkySync GPS Module

By: Brian Ventrudo and Manish Panjwani
May 31, 2018

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1. Overview

Celestron makes three accessory modules that enhance and extend the capability of many of their computerized go-to telescope mounts. These are the StarSense Autoalign Module, the SkyPortal WiFi Module and the SkySync GPS module. Sorting out what each of these modules do, and how they work together, can be a little confusing. This short article explains the basic use and connection of these useful astronomical tools.

2. StarSense Autoalign Module # 94005

To understand the performance of these binoculars, it helps to review a bit of optics.

Celestron StarSense Tutorial
Figure 1 - A Celestron StarSense module connected to a CPC telescope

The StarSense Autoalign Module consists of a specialized computer in the form of a hand controller coupled to a wide-field sky camera that work together to automatically align a telescope and mount to the night sky. The camera mounts on top of the telescope, often in place of the telescope's finder, while the StarSense hand controller replaces the standard hand controller that comes with your Celestron go-to mount.

With the StarSense module, there is no need to accurately level the telescope mount, and no compass is needed to aim the telescope in any particular direction if it's on an altazimuth mount. An equatorial mount, however, should be roughly polar aligned before using StarSense. During the alignment routine, the StarSense scans the night sky to create an accurate model of the sky, then sets the hand controller so you can select specific objects to see during your observing session. The entire process takes just a few minutes, although there is a slightly longer alignment routine required when you use the module for the first time.

The module is ideal for new astronomers who may find manual alignment of a computerized go-to mount difficult because they don't know the names of bright stars. Many experienced observers also enjoy using StarSense simply because of its convenience.

The StarSense module does not include a GPS function. For each observing location, you need only enter the date, time, and location (by city or by latitude and longitude) once. The hand controller needs this information for finding solar system objects and for establishing the location of the horizon for equatorial mounts. However, for those who don't wish to enter the date, time, and location into the hand controller, the StarSense module is compatible with the Celestron SkySync GPS module (section 4).

The StarSense module does not include WiFi. The camera connects by wire to an AUX port on the mount, and the StarSense hand controller connects directly to the hand controller port on the mount (and therefore replaces the standard hand controller). StarSense is, however, compatible with the SkyPortalWiFi module described in the next section.

StarSense works with many modern and nearly-modern Celestron mounts including AVX, CGX, CGX-L, CPC, NexStar GT (2015 and newer with AUX splitter), CG-5 (with AUX splitter), Astro Fi, NexStar Evolution, CGE, CGE Pro, NexStar SE, CGEM, CGEM DX, CGEM II, Nexstar SLT, and SkyProdigy.

There is also a version of the StarSense module that is designed to work with select Sky-Watcher mounts.

You can learn more about the StarSense Autoalign module at the Agena AstroProducts product page at this link. You can download the detailed manual for the StarSense module at this link.

3. SkyPortal WiFi Module # 93973

Celestron StarSense Tutorial
Figure 2 - The CelestronSkyPortalWiFi Module

Celestron's SkyPortal module is a small dongle that plugs into an available AUX port on a Celestron computerized mount. It provides a local WiFi network that you can connect to with a smartphone or tablet.

If you don't have enough AUX ports on your mount, you can add an extra port using a Celestron AUX port splitter.

Celestron StarSense Tutorial
Figure 3 - A Celestron AUX port splitter

To operate the telescope through the module, download the SkyPortal app (for Android or iOS), then connect to the SkyPortal module through its WiFi connection. The smartphone and app then become the controller of the telescope, and you can go through the standard manual alignment process, then slew the telescope to one of thousands of objects by tapping on a celestial object in the app instead of using the hand controller. The app also includes user-friendly sky tours and audio descriptions of many celestial objects.

Note that some Celestron telescope such as the NexStar Evolution and AstroFi models already have WiFi built in and do not require the SkyPortal module.

You don't need a GPS module to use the SkyPortal. The app takes time and position data from your smartphone itself.

The SkyPortal module and app also work with the Celestron StarSense module to control the telescope. With the app and these two modules, the entire automated StarSense alignment routine can be controlled from your smartphone or tablet.

The video below shows you the two modules in action.

You can learn more about the SkyPortalWiFimodule at the Agena AstroProducts product page at this link. You can download the detailed manual for the SkyPortal module at this link.

4. SkySync GPS Module # 93969

Celestron StarSense Tutorial
Figure 4 - The Celestron SkySync GPS Module

For those who don't wish to use a cell phone and SkyPortal module to provide GPS to the hand controller, Celestron continues to offer their SkySync GPS accessory. This little module links to global GPS satellites to determine your location and the time, then supplies this information to the standard Celestron hand controller or StarSense module and hand controller.

When using mounts with the standard Celestron hand controllers, simply plug in the GPS accessory to the port on the hand controller itself. When using the SkySync module with StarSense, plug your StarSense cord (from the camera) into the aux port. Plug the SkySync cord into the StarSense hand controller port and then plug your StarSense hand controller into the SkySync aux port.

You can learn more about the SkySync GPS module at the Agena AstroProducts product page at this link.

5. Summary

SkySync GPS # 93969

  • Simpler device compared to Starsense
  • Frees you from having to enter time/date/location
  • Scope must still be leveled and aligned at start of observing session
  • Scope controlled via hand controller.

SkyPortal WiFi # 93973

  • Simpler device compared to Starsense
  • Frees you from having to enter time/date/location
  • Scope must still be leveled and aligned at start of observing session
  • Scope controlled via hand controller.

SkyPortal WiFi # 93973

  • Allows use of (wireless) smartphone/tablet instead of (wired) hand controller
  • Allows use of SkyPortal app to control telescope
  • Frees you from having to enter time/date/location
  • Scope must still be leveled and aligned at start of observing session

Starsense # 94005

  • Frees you from leveling or aligning scope at start of observing session (equatorial mount must still be roughly polar aligned)
  • Can be used with SkyPortalWiFi for wireless scope control via smartphone/tablet
  • Can be used with SkySync GPS module for time, date, and location information